Feb 19, 2014

Translation in the Dumps

written by Kelly Smithson

There is no doubt that a lot of time, effort, and money was spent on preparing Sochi and the world for this year’s Winter Olympics. The Games can certainly be seen as proof that Russia has more or less overcome the trials and tribulations brought on by the dissolution of the Soviet Union to become a modern, competent state. However, it appears that not enough care was taken to present Russian hospitality in a positive light. There have been cases of mockery and confusion caused by mistranslations into English, which prove that even in the tourism business, skilled translators and editors are needed to prevent the spread of misconceptions about a people. One such mistranslation can be found on restaurant menus.

Not only were the Russian abbreviation “в асс.” (“v ass.”) and its expansion “в ассортименте” (“v assortimente”) carelessly mistranslated, but the English text was left unedited as well. The following examples have been noted by visitors to Sochi: “cakes in ass.,” “ice cream in the ass.,” and “lemonade in the ass.” (http://www.thebraiser.com/sochi-olympics-in-the-ass-menus/) The true meaning of the Russian phrase in question - “in a variety of flavors” - is beyond lost in translation. Yes, the word “assortment” could have been used, but it shouldn’t have been abbreviated to “ass.,” and the full meaning of the original phrase should have been captured in the target language as it would have been by a native English speaker. As it is, the translation, including the definite article, reflects a certain lack of knowledge not only of correct English grammar but also of colloquial English language as a whole. A caring individual who is both fluent in English and familiar with English slang would never have included or left the phrase “in the ass.” on a restaurant menu! I’d like to think that whoever created the menus with that phrase didn’t mean to promote bathroom humor. A menu isn’t the place for it!

The issue at hand clearly exemplifies the risks associated with having a translation performed by an individual who doesn’t have native-level mastery of the target language. While it is certainly commendable that the Sochi restaurants involved made a point of adding English to their menus in order to accommodate foreign customers, they should have hired a translator-editor team for the task with native-level fluency in that language. In the case above, the mistake of using someone else has had the following consequences: not only can the resulting translation be read as inappropriate humor, but more importantly, the English text doesn’t reflect the full meaning of the original language, thereby making the affected menu items unclear for customers who aren’t familiar with Russian. This in turn may earn the establishments a lot of disrespect and humiliation stemming from feelings of discomfort and ridicule, thereby negatively affecting their reputation and sales.

What’s more, in spite of the restaurants’ good intentions, this honest mistake may be interpreted by members of the international community as characteristic not only of the tourism industry in Sochi as a whole, but also of  the Russian people in general. I’m sure the average Russian would prefer to be seen as a respectable, world-embracing individual as opposed to an adolescent butcher of the English language. It’s bad enough that Russians are stereotyped as boozers!

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